4. Who does it in a CDA?
A CDA normally has at least one Development Officer (DO) and at least part time dedicated administrative assistance. Larger CDAs have several officers, with perhaps one in an overall managing position, and proportionately greater administrative support.
A good DO will always be capable of self-administering an office, but admin support is particularly important to CDAs because many of the services a CDA can offer tend to be admin intensive. For example, the taking and circulating of Minutes reasonably straight forward, a good service to offer, but time consuming. Such services can be offered more effectively if the DO doesnt get tied in too closely with the delivery. Additionally, much of the work of a CDA involves exploratory or experimental work. There may be admin aspects to this, but the DO should deal with these until the exploratory work settles down and can be systemised. Once systemised, it should be relatively simple to hand over to admin support, freeing time for the DO to then get into further exploratory work.
In some instances, more specialised abilities will be required than can be provided in-house. There should be the facility to contract work out to specialists in particular fields as the needs arise. These might be from specialist agencies or professionals (accountants/lawyers), they might be from other CDAs with particular experience, or they might be from local co-operatives with knowledge or expertise in specific areas.
Most CDAs function quite happily with a collective management structure in which no one is posted on a "higher" level with a brief to oversee activities of the others. However, larger CDAs sometimes feel that this is more difficult for a Board to oversee and prefer to appoint a managing or co-ordinating Development Officer. Nevertheless, as with co-ops themselves, delegation of specific areas of work is an important part of a CDAs functionality. Some such delegated areas which DOs might take on in addition to their regular work could be as follows:
- company secretary As stated above, it usually falls to a member of staff to fill this important capacity. It should include the orchestration of all Board and executive meetings, minute taking, preparation of the Annual Report, and arrangements for the AGM.
- strategic development/budgets It is often useful to have one person delegated to oversee this and to liase with the auditors. This doesnt by any means suggest that other members of staff shouldnt be involved. They should be. The point is that one person should be entrusted to pull all the facts and figures together to facilitate the "what if" discussions.
- fund raising This is often an onerous task which could usefully have a delegated DO to monitor and pursue. Most Local Authority funds are paid in annual cycles and cases for continuance and/or expansion have to be carefully prepared and presented.
- liaison In developing partnership networks with other agencies and with funding bodies, it is often helpful to have a single person responsible for keeping an overview on what links are being maintained with whom and whether the relationship is in fact a fruitful one.
- promotional policy/marketing & publicity Maintaining a reasonably high, positive image of the CDA can be another specialised area. One person should be delegated to maintain a clippings file, cultivate local press contacts, organise events, and issue press releases.
- project management If external funds are sought for specific projects, it is essential that each such project has a named DO as the project manager someone who knows that all matters relating to that project reside ultimately with them. This will prove invaluable, especially as monitoring and evaluation take place.
Most CDAs rely very heavily on their administrators. Their duties usually include reception/telephone, correspondence systems, data and text entry, filing, etc. but many also take on book keeping and accounts, client records, outputs analysis, and are inevitably fully participative members of the collective management of the CDA. In small to medium sized CDAs, the administrators are often the people with the most practical knowledge of the day to day runnings of the agency, have the best idea as to which staff might be where at what particular moment, and what deadlines are most pressingly imminent. The importance of a good administrator to a CDA cannot be over-emphasised.
4.2.3 business advice worker
Most DOs are business advice workers of some description. They occupy themselves with business planning for co-operative enterprise start ups and move towards company registration. But they also engage in business planning and trouble shooting with existing enterprises, using their own skills, training, and experience to assist trading companies in whatever way they may.
In addition, some may have specialist areas such as conflict resolution, or accounts, or IT training.
This is the core work of the CDA - helping co-operative businesses to be competitive and successful.
4.2.4 outreach worker
Some CDAs hire outreach workers with the specific brief of promoting co-operation in general to the public, and of promoting local co-operative businesses in their various areas of trade.
An outreach worker will also liase with other local organisations and with the wider third sector.
4.3 core skills required/prioritisation of those skills
4.3.1 general co-operative business skills
It is generally recognised that a multiplicity of skills are required of CDA staff. In small CDAs, these are all expected to reside, to some degree, in one or two staff. In larger CDAs, as mentioned above, it is possible to attract staff with specific specialisms. What is not so straight forward is trying to prioritise these skills. Here follows an attempt. IN order of priority then, top down.
- Experience of working in a co-operative setting: Clients of CDAs will expect an understanding of the way in which their business is being run and the principles to which they are trying to adhere. It is not good enough to have a business advisor who may state the obvious, such as, "You have to cut staff." or "You have to appoint an external manager" without regard to the underlying importance of the common ownership of these jobs. Co-ops may and often do cut staff, and they may and do appoint external managers, but CDAs must have a sound understanding of how much more gravely such decisions are taken in a co-operative setting.
- Finance: The most consistent demand of CDA staff will be in matters relating to finance. A good understanding of the basic principles of accounting and an ability to offer objective advice on the basis of a quick grasp of most financial problem areas are essential. There is always scope for calling in experts in particularly murky situations, but, even here, a good DO will be able to assist with interpretation and recommendations.
- Marketing: A common failing in enterprises with high ideals (which characterises many co-ops) is full and proper attention to marketing. There is sometimes an assumption that an ethical business will sell itself when, in fact, of course, no such logic applies. There is a knack to raising profile and good DOs should have some knowledge of the fundamentals.
- HR: Another delicate area in which CDA guidance is often called for is in the area of Human Resources. Employment policies, contracts, disputes, work practices a good CDA will provide informed guidance in all of these areas and CDA staff must be well versed in the current legislation.
- Law: In more general terms, the ever changing and elusive law, as it applies to most areas of enterprising endeavour, should be familiar ground to a good DO. Again, experts can be called upon where legal questions border on the esoteric, but the CDA should be able to assist in interpreting and recommending.
- Fund raising: It is a sad fact of life that no CDA can survive without skills in this area. Even where "core funding" is in place, CDAs are more often than not in volatile funding situations. DOs need to have an understanding of the way in which the various funding cycles work and how they can used to lever each other.
- Lobbying: Often closely associated with fund raising, in fact CDAs should offer much more. An alertness for legislative change as it might affect the co-operative sector should be a feature of a CDAs work as should the capacity to work with other CDAs and national bodies as and when needs arise.
- Capacity to update skills: Perhaps most importantly, CDA staff need to be flexible and indicate a willingness to upgrade their skills as and when required.
4.3.2 local knowledge
A good CDA will have staff who are familiar with local markets, demographics, and political environment. They will also be familiar with the other local players (agencies, etc.).
4.3.3 wider national knowledge
In addition, CDA staff should be familiar with and mindful of national trends in terms both of government policy and of developments in supply and demand. They should know where to look to find answers to questions in these areas. They should be familiar with sources of information on specific trade sectors. In particular, it is helpful of DOs are familiar with what other co-ops are doing elsewhere as exemplars of what could be developed locally.
Also, all CDA staff should be aware of other CDAs who are or have been developing particular expertise which they are (or should be) willing to share.
Recruitment of CDA staff is usually undertaken in much the same way as recruitment for public or local government staff. Adverts are generally placed in New Sector, the Wednesday Guardian, New Start, as well as local newspapers and job centres. Scrupulous adherence to recruitment best practice should be encouraged. "Fair Selection" (see Appendices) procedures should be adopted at every stage.
It is important to recognise the vital balance between standard business skills and experience and skills and experience specific to the co-operative sector. Too much of one without the other can be a recipe for failure. Just to be perfectly clear on this point, it is often thought that business skills themselves are adequate, but experience has shown that, without a sound understanding of the principles and history of co-operation, a CDA can quickly lose its way.
As in recruitment to co-operative companies themselves, induction can be key in terms of establishing a clear and productive relationship between staff and elected management. In particular, the underlying principles at play in this relationship needs careful addressing for recruits whose balance (se Recruitment) of understanding of the co-operative sector is weighted more to the straight business skills side.
4.6 pros & cons of trying to provide all skills required "in house"
There is considerable debate in the sector about the merits and demerits of hiring permanent staff as opposed to contracting in services as and when required. What Anywhere may require is for the funders and co-operators in Anywhere to determine, but the arguments, in general terms, are as follows.
4.6.1 in house
In general terms, in house staff offers a more stable solution. Proper jobs, with proper terms & conditions (usually to Local Government standards) are more likely to build a deep rooted commitment to the locality. Co-operative development is a long term process. The fruits of labours can often only be seen three or four years down the line. And much of the groundwork involves simply becoming familiar with personalities in key positions in local authorities, educational establishments, banks, and business and community support agencies. This sort of partnership building is essential but requires continual exposure and updating.
Relationships with CDA Boards and local co-operators can be difficult to maintain for non-permanent staff. And where there are no permanent staff, it often falls to volunteer Board members to assume responsibility for keeping records and chasing contracts.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to fire staff if they appear to be underperforming, or to let them go when times are hard. It is sometimes more difficult to maintain a clear remit as work and staff and local situations evolve.
4.6.2 out of house
Contracting in co-op development consultants can allow for considerable flexibility. The contractors will only pay for hours worked. Termination is relatively straightforward if funding problems emerge. And it is often a way of recognising and utilising co-op development skills among local co-operators (assuming that there are already trading co-ops in the area).
However, demands on voluntary time will be very high as the elected representatives of local co-operators endeavour to draw up work briefs, engage in the tendering process, and follow up with regular supervisory and monitoring meetings. A voluntary treasurer will inevitably have to engage in funds management which can, in itself, be a failure major commitment in terms both of time and of stress.
Further, much of a CDAs good work depends upon ongoing relationships with Local Government officers, voluntary agencies, local businesses, educational establishments, and community groups. These can take years to build up. Consultants on short term contracts are unlikely to achieve anything like the rapport one would expect to emerge out of longer term postings.
4.6.3 the compromise
In many ways, the ideal solution is a compromise, with at least one permanent DO and one admin support worker, but with the budgetary flexibility to take on specialists as and when required. Even among larger, established CDAs, there is no aversion to calling in specialists on short term contract for specific purposes and has, in some cases, even become a sort of norm.
In some CDAs, some of the staff may be direct Local Authority employees. A significant reduction in administrative overhead can be achieved through this, especially if wages are handled by the LA. This too can represent an opportunity insofar as there then exists a ready accessibility to LA resources and LA decision and policy making circles.